Amazon warehouse workers around the world are striking for Prime Day

Working life at an Amazon facility in Spain.
Working life at an Amazon facility in Spain.
Image: Reuters/Albert Gea
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Thousands of workers at Amazon fulfillment centers and warehouses around the globe are going on strike today to bring attention to the working conditions they endure. Some are arguing that buying from Amazon during Prime Day is akin to crossing a picket line.

As the two-day bacchanal of discounted Amazon offerings begins, workers at its fulfillment centers around the US continue to complain of extremely odious quotas, limited bathroom breaksmandatory holiday shifts, and the need for pain medication just to get through their 10-hour work days.

Where Amazon workers plan job actions

The US Workers at a Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center will be walking out during a six-hour period that overlaps with the end of the facility’s morning shift and the start of its evening shift. There are about 1,500 full-time employees at the facility, according to the Daily Beast.

There will also be protests in the US this week in support of Amazon’s warehouse workers, as well as to call out the company’s dealings with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division. Workers at Amazon itself have called on the company to cut ties with ICE. Demonstrations will take place in New York, San Francisco, Shakopee, Portland, Amazon’s home base in Seattle, as well as other cities.

Germany Hundreds of employees at seven facilities will be striking today and tomorrow, over longstanding issues with employee pay. “While Amazon holds a giant Prime-Day bargain hunt, employees are deprived of a living wage,” Orhan Akman, a representative from the German labor union Ver.di, said in a statement shared with Quartz.

The UK The GMB trade union will be staging protests at Amazon facilities across the country. Some of the most shocking accounts issues of issues faced by Amazon warehouse workers have come out of the UK. One undercover writer said they witnessed co-workers urinating in bottles to avoid missing quotas by taking bathroom breaks.

Still, the GMB isn’t calling on customers to boycott the online retailer during Prime Day. “We’re not calling for economic damage for Amazon,” Mick Rix, a union officer told the BBC. “What we’re asking for is for people to be aware. Leave feedback on Amazon.”

“Amazon workers want Jeff Bezos to know they are people—not robots,” Rix said in a statement shared with Quartz. “It is time that Jeff showed empathy with the very people that have helped to contribute to his vast and increasing personal fortune.”

Elsewhere in Europe Workers in Spain and Poland will also be organizing demonstrations at Amazon facilities across their countries throughout the week.

What Amazon has to say

Amazon sent Quartz the following statement about the demonstrations and walkouts:

Events like Prime Day have become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause—industry leading pay (full-time employees at our Shakopee facility make $16.25 – $20.80), benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees. We can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the event on Monday are simply not informed. If these groups—unions and the politicians they rally to their cause—really want to help the American worker, we encourage them to focus their energy on passing legislation for an increase in the federal minimum wage, because $7.25 is too low.

The future of humans at Amazon

Amazon robots moving products around the Edison, NJ facility.
Image: Quartz/Mike Murphy

Amazon, which has pushed anti-union messages to its managers, recently announced that it would be committing to offering one-day shipping to all Prime members in the US (and potentially worldwide). Its previous two-day delivery standard had already upended the shipping and logistics industries, forcing other companies to get to similar standards to be able to stay competitive.

Some of Amazon’s less-automated warehouses are labyrinthine in their structure, causing workers to reportedly walk tens of miles each workday. And there’s been not one, but two, cases of accidental bear-macing at warehouses in the US.

The company is moving to more automated, safer warehouses, like the New Jersey facility Quartz visited last week, where products are brought to workers by an army of robots and conveyor belts. Amazon also has committed to paying $15 per hour for all full-time employees, as well as offering healthcare and paid leave.

Visiting these newer warehouses shows how much of the fulfillment process Amazon has already automated, and with the funds Amazon recently set aside to re-train warehouse employees to work with robots, it’s hard to see a future where there is much left for humans to do in an Amazon warehouse other than fix robots.